Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Guy Fawkes Day, Bonfire Night and Firework Night, is an annual commemoration observed on November 5th , primarily in Great Britain, although also observed in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.
In 1605, a group of provincial English Catholics colluded to plan the assassination of the protestant King James I of England and replace him with a Catholic head of state.
However, an anonymous letter to one of the lords spoiled their plot, and Guy Fawkes – who was positioned as guard of the conspirators’ gunpowder – was caught in the cellar of the House of Parliament just after midnight on 5 November.
Fast forward to the twenty-first century and the day is celebrated with an array of fireworks and much merriment. However according to Christine Kuch from the National Council of SPCA, Guy Fawkes has no relevance to South Africans.
“Guy Fawkes has no significance whatsoever to South Africa, I grew up in the UK where it was called bonfire night and it is a historical thing. So why anyone in our country wants to celebrate it, really, it’s complete nonsense,” she says.
Meanwhile, she does add that certain municipalities do allow fireworks, only at certain times and on a certain date, yet it has become increasingly evident that often the fireworks terrify both communities and animals.
“Certain municipalities in their infinite wisdom have given dispensation for fireworks and as we all know there is a considerable number of people who disregard rules and laws and regulations anyway.
So our message to everyone is just be prepared, if you have animals you are responsible for them. It’s no good – which often happens- year after year blaming fireworks for your dog running away, getting off the property and getting injured,” she explains.
Kuch says during these festivities, which normally stretch to Christmas time, pet owners are urged to consult with their local vets in order to ensure their pets' safety.
“The by-law stipulate that you are responsible for keeping your dog on your own property every day of the year. Animals will be scared when fireworks go off – some more than others – and again don’t leave it too late and above all, don’t give any animal any medication intended for humans,” she emphasises.
Chitra Bodasing from ER24 has given some safety tips to follow in the wake of Guy Fawkes:
1. While it is advised to leave the handling of fireworks to the professionals, if other adults choose to ignite them, they should ensure they are allowed to ignite them where and when they plan on doing so. Only use fireworks in legally designated areas. Check with your local council or municipality before igniting fireworks.
2. Never ignite fireworks while under the influence of liquor.
3. Remember that igniting fireworks and continuing to hold them in your hand while lit could lead to severe injuries. Do not fool or run around with ignited fireworks.
4. Ensure that your clothes are not close or hanging over the fireworks when you ignite them. Also ensure that you do not ignite fireworks in confined spaces, near people, houses, vehicles, other flammable materials or substances, dry grass or bush as well as in containers and manholes.
5. Keep in mind that fireworks can backfire or go off in the wrong direction.
6. Keep water or a fire extinguisher close by, should there be an emergency.
7. Treat fireworks that are not ignited as dangerous. A spark or open flame can set off fireworks if they are left in close proximity.
8. Keep fireworks away from children. Depending on their age, they may not understand how to use them, may not understand the repercussions should the fireworks not be handled properly or may want to experiment with them not thinking about the consequences.
Members of the public are urged to purchase fireworks from registered suppliers who can produce their permits issued by SAPS. Shop-bought fireworks discharged at approved locations are done so at the owner’s risk.
Meanwhile, citizens are urged to not use so-called Chinese lanterns, which are candle-powered airborne lanterns, which are not only illegal but also considered a fire hazard.